February 17, 2013 in Features, Outdoors, Travel

Three Montana rivers serve up tasty mix: fly-fishing, beer drinking

Mike Brodwater Special To Travel

From left, Sam Lungren, of Missoula; Dan Oko, of Texas; Dave Reuss, of Bozeman; and Jim Pfaff, of Minnesota, celebrate a successful day of fishing by sampling beer at the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish, Mont.
(Full-size photo)

Bitterroot River

 The Bitterroot River is a medium-size, clear stream that flows fast over a rocky bed. The river can be fished by boat or by using waders. The banks are a mix of woodland and grass while on the horizon to the east rise the Sapphire Mountains and to the west are the Bitterroot Mountains looming with snow-covered peaks.

Put In: John Clemons Boat Launch

River Miles: 5-6

Take Out: Darby Bridge Fishing Access

Favorite Fly: Blue Haze

Outfitter: Bitterroot Fly Company


Nearby MicroBrewery: Bitterroot Brewing Company


Favorite Flavor: Sawtooth Ale

Lodging: Alta Ranch, alta-ranch.com

Middle Fork

of the

Flathead River

 The Middle Fork of the Flathead River borders Glacier National Park and flows past high mountains and canyons on its way to West Glacier. Highway 2 parallels the river, which provides numerous access spots. However, when fishing on the river the highway is higher and set back so it is seldom seen or the traffic heard. The river is fast-moving and as clear as vodka with a rocky bottom. The water is so clear that trout rising to the floating fly can be seen ready to strike, adding to the excitement. There are several whitewater rapids near the town of West Glacier, which add to this adventure.

Put in: Kisson Creek boat access

River Miles: 8

Take Out: East Glacier

Favorite Fly: Hop & Drop

Outfitter: Glacier Anglers

www.glacierraftco.com/ fly-fishing

Nearby microbreweries:

• Flathead Lake Brewing Company

www.flatheadlake brewing.com

Favorite Flavor: Porter

• Great Northern Brewing Company

www.greatnorthern brewing.com

Favorite Flavor: Good Medicine Imperial Ale

Lodging: Gentry River Ranch


Dining: The Buffalo Café

www.buffalocafe whitefish.com

Clark Fork River

 The Clark Fork River flowing through Missoula and just downstream is wide, deep and slow-flowing. The same trout are present as in the Bitterroot River but there is a better chance of catching larger fish. Float fishing is best at this section of the river while wading is limited. Wildlife like eagles, osprey and even mink may be spotted.

Put in: Just downstream from Missoula at the confluence of the Bitterroot River.

River Miles: 9-12

Take Out: Harper’s Bridge

Favorite Fly: Hop & Drop

Outfitter: Grizzly Hackle


Nearby MicroBreweries:

• Tamarack Brewing Company


Favorite Flavor: Steep & Deep White IPA

• Kettlehouse Brewing Company


Favorite Flavor: Double Haul IPA

Lodging: Red Lion Inn Missoula


Dining: Biga Pizza


Fly-fishing and beer go together like apple pie and ice cream or peanut butter and jelly. Western Montana offers outstanding fly-fishing streams as well as a surprising number of microbrewing companies to visit after a successful day of fishing.

Western Montana has no fewer than 20 rivers to choose from for fishing. And Montana trout are managed not by stocking with hatchery fish, but rather by protecting habitat along with catch and release restrictions in certain areas to preserve the wild population. That means wild and aggressive trout that are looking for your fly. The Bitterroot River near Hamilton, the Clark Fork River near Missoula and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier National Park are all known for their good fishing, clear fast-moving water, great scenery, and wildlife. All three rivers support cutthroat, rainbow, brown and bull trout. What’s not to like about this picture?

Craft breweries are conveniently located near all three rivers. Western Montana is home to some of the best beer in the West. The varieties of beer from pale to dark make sampling an indulgence after a hard day of fishing.

And if you’re looking for advice on which fly will ease the fishing, well, take it with a grain of salt.

“Every guide will tell you what their fly is and every guide will give you a different answer – every year,” said Mike Cooney, operations manager at Glacier Raft Co.

“Personally, my answer would be to stick to the traditional patterns,” he said. “The Stimulator, affectionately known as a ‘Stimi,’ is a main staple of my box as well as a Royal Wolf, H.L. Varient, parachute hopper and for a nymph-prince nymph.”

Cooney said the hot fly that works one season gets replaced by another hot one the next year. “It seems that the Westslope Cutthroat isn’t really that picky and the guides tend to be pickier than the fish when it comes to what fly to toss,” he said.

Here’s a look at three top-rated Montana fishing streams, tried and true outfitters, close-by brew pubs and suggested places to stay overnight. The hardest decision you have to make is what stream to fish.

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